The Power of Gratitude

 Proper 23C’19

13 October 2019

Luke 17. 11-19

St. Luke’s Episcopal Church

North Little Rock, Arkansas

The Rev. Carey Stone

 

“Thou that hast given so much to me, give one thing more, a grateful heart:”

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

-From the Poem “Gratefulness” by George Herbert

What’s the first thing you do when you get out of bed in the morning? Brush your teeth? Turn on the coffee or the TV? Use the bathroom? Well according to research conducted by IDC Research, 80% of smartphone users pick up their phones within the first 15mins after waking up.[1] The electronic umbilical cord connecting us to technology seems to be growing stronger every day.

There is also a growing body of research, mostly from secular sources exploring the power of expressing gratitude upon awakening. I recently bought a daily planner and each page begins with several blanks for a “gratitude list.”

An article from Psychology Today identified seven scientifically proven benefits to expressing gratitude:

1)   Gratitude opens the door to more relationships. Not only does saying “thank you” is good manners, but showing appreciation can help us to win new friends, thanking a new acquaintance makes them more likely to seek an ongoing relationship. Acknowledging other people’s contributions either by saying “thank you” or sending a handwritten note, can lead to new opportunities.


2) Gratitude improves physical health. Grateful people experience fewer aches and pains and report feeling healthier than other people, and are also more likely to take care of their health, exercise more often and are more likely to attend regular check-ups, which is likely to contribute to living longer.
 

3) Gratitude improves psychological health. Gratitude reduces a multitude of toxic emotions, from envy and resentment to frustration and regret, it increases happiness and reduces depression.
 

4) Gratitude enhances empathy and reduces aggressionGrateful people are more likely to respond to others with kindness, even when others act less kindly, and are not as prone to retaliate or seek revenge. 

 

5) Grateful people sleep better. Writing in a gratitude journal improves sleep. Spend just 15 minutes jotting down a few things you are grateful for before bed, and you may sleep better and longer.
 

6) Gratitude improves self-esteem. A 2014 study published in the Journal of Applied Sport Psychology found that gratitude increased athletes’ self-esteem, an essential component to optimal performance. Other studies have shown that gratitude reduces social comparisons. Rather than becoming resentful toward people who have more money or better jobs—a major factor in reduced self-esteem—grateful people are able to appreciate other people’s accomplishments.
 

7) Gratitude increases mental strength. For years, research has shown gratitude not only reduces stress, but it may also play a major role in overcoming trauma. A 2006 study published in Behavior Research and Therapy found that Vietnam War veterans with higher levels of gratitude experienced lower rates of post-traumatic stress disorder. A 2003 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that gratitude was  a major contributor to resilience following the terrorist attacks on September 11. Recognizing all that you have to be thankful for —even during the worst times—fosters resilience.[2]

Perhaps these behavioral scientists are confirming what philosophers and spiritual leaders have known for centuries. Cicero said, “There is no quality I would rather have, and be thought to have, than gratitude. For it is not only the greatest virtue, but is the mother of all the rest.” Meister Eckhart famously said, “If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, ‘thank you,’ that would suffice.” And G. K. Chesterton said, “The test of all happiness is gratitude.”

In today’s gospel we find a healing story that can only be found in Luke’s gospel, the story of Christ’s healing of the ten lepers. Leprosy was a terrible disease of the skin that caused sores that would leave the victim disfigured. It was highly infectious and contagious and those who had it were considered “unclean.” They had to live in isolation or with groups of fellow lepers. People were not supposed to get closer than 40 ft. as any closer could increase their chances of contracting it. Jesus and some of his disciples were travelling and came upon a group of ten lepers who immediately cried out “unclean, unclean” to make sure no one got too close. Jesus had compassion on them and healed them of their disease and instructed them as the law required for them to go to the temple priests and have their cure confirmed. As they started in the direction of the temple their leprosy was healed, and rejoicing they went to the temple and were officially cleared to rejoin the community.

Only one of the lepers came back to thank Jesus for healing him. He expressed his gratitude by falling down at his feet and giving thanks. The man was not just any leper he was also a Samaritan – who according to the religion of Jesus’ day was considered to be doubly unclean, he was both a leper and a Gentile.

Jesus, once again, points out the wrong person, from the wrong place, to show us all the right thing to do – to practice gratitude. Here was someone who not only rejoiced in the gift of healing but was interested in more than just the blessings he could get he wanted to make contact with the ‘blesser’ the person Jesus. Because of his humble gratitude Jesus gives him a second gift, the greater gift, the gift of wholeness: ”Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”

The truth is that all we have has come to us as a gift. Even things like the horrible disease of leprosy becomes a source of blessing as it brought him near to Jesus, and not only to the miraculous healing of his body, but of the healing of his soul.

Spiritual writer, Melody Beattie does a beautiful job of describing the benefits of practicing gratitude:

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. It turns problems into gifts, failures into successes, the unexpected into perfect timing, and mistakes into important events. It can turn an existence into a real life, and disconnected situations into important and beneficial lessons. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow…Gratitude turns negative energy into positive energy. There is no situation or circumstance so small or large that it is not susceptible to gratitude’s power. We can start with who we are and what we have today.”[3]

Let us lift up our half empty glass and give thanks to God that it’s really half full!

“Thou that hast given so much to me, give me one thing more, a grateful heart:” Amen.

 

 


[1] https://blogs.constantcontact.com/smartphone-usage-statistics/

[2] https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/what-mentally-strong-people-dont-do/201504/7-scientifically-proven-benefits-gratitude

[3] Beattie, Melody, The Language of Letting Go (Hazelden Foundation, 1990) p.218

 

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